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Getting it Right
There’s a Right Way to Clean and Sanitizing Your Facility
by James Carter
Cleaning and sanitization play an important part in any food processing facility, whether a continuous or batch process, regardless of the complexity or simplicity of the operation. Certain industries, particularly meat, poultry and seafood, have stringent cleaning and sanitizing protocols due to the myriad potential problems which may occur.
These protocols are also required by regulatory agencies, and while other operations may not require such stringent cleaning, i.e., warehouse/distribution centers, it is in the best interests of both the processor and their customers for cleaning/sanitizing to be conducted.
Good sanitation, removing trash, litter and debris can remove potential food sources for pests and remove potential pest harborages within the facility. Cleaning can also be associated with good preventive maintenance; clean equipment will often operate better than dirty equipment. A satisfactory cleaning program is an essential prerequisite for an effective HACCP program.
Often there is a designated supervisor/manager with overall responsibility for cleaning/sanitation programs. Depending on the size of the workforce, this associate may do the actual cleaning or supervise a cleaning staff. If supervising, personnel must be adequately trained in the importance of cleaning, in cleaning techniques, and in chemical safety. Often those responsible for sanitation are also associated with quality assurance. Effective cleaning can also have an impact on employee morale. There is a term known as “quality of work life,” and working in a clean and organized facility is better than one that is not.
Clean: free of visible dirt
Sanitary: free of disease causing microorganisms
Sterile: free of all microorganisms
PLC: Programmable logic controller
CIP operations can work either in continuous or batch systems, when equipment may be out of service for a specific window of time. CIP systems are generally automatic, controlled either by a central computer in a process control room or often by a PLC in the process area. Once a piece of equipment, or an entire subsystem (tanks, transfer lines, pumps, heat exchangers, centrifuges, fillers, etc) is not in use and ready for CIP, the sequence often runs as this:
- A hot dilute caustic step, about 0.5 to 1 percent NaOH, often with varying levels of sodium gluconate as an anti-scaling compound, functions as the first cleaning step. The caustic can be recycled to the supply tank for reuse, with a conductivity meter to determine the cutoff between spent and good caustic.
- This can be followed by a hot water rinse.
- A sanitizing solution would ensue; most common are iodophors, quaternary ammonium compounds, hypochlorite, or peroxyacetic acids. Sanitizers are designed by manufacturers to be used at low concentrations.
- Final hot water rinse to remove any excess sanitizer.
Elapsed times and chemical concentrations for each step vary considerably, based on the system/product susceptibility to microorganisms.
Common industries utilizing CIP would include dairies and breweries, while COP is essentially the process of disassembling equipment, cleaning by hand or automatically, usually in an industrial sink. This method of cleaning can be done on specific pieces of equipment at any desired intervals.
Numerous industries would have production on day and swing shifts, with midnight shift devoted to cleaning and sanitation. Examples of these would be meat, poultry and seafood. In these cases, QA personnel and frequently USDA would be available for an early morning pre-op sanitation inspection. If equipment is not satisfactory, cleaning is repeated. Often, industries will use quick checks to determine effectiveness of microorganisms killed. Most common is the ATP bioluminescence test, which relies on a color change if ATP from micro cells is present. Equipment not in current use is generally cleaned, covered with plastic sheeting until use is needed.
Cleaning of individual equipment also allows for in-depth checking of the equipment for evidence of rust, corrosion, damage, excess lubrication, cracks, which could provide harborages for microorganisms, loose manufacturer’s labels, which can be addressed before equipment is put back into use.
Just as important as cleaning of equipment, product contact and non-contact surfaces, is cleaning of the physical facility itself (i.e., dust and web control). Walls should be free of dirt, mold, webbing in corners and behind structural metalwork. Ceilings and overheads, light fixtures, pipes and conduits, sprinklers, ceiling mounted condensers and blowers, etc., should be clean and free of loose flaky paint, rust and other materials that could fall into product. Floors and drains should be kept clean, free of trash/litter and uncluttered, both in heavily trafficked areas, in corners, beneath and behind equipment and pallets. There should also be adequate cleaning of refrigerated and frozen operations. Ice accumulation in freezers could be a safety issue, both for personnel falling on slippery surfaces, as well as a product safety issue if contaminated water is dripping onto products during defrost cycles. Mold in cold storage could be an issue because mold is a spore former. With the strong air circulation in cold storage, mold spores could be blown everywhere.
Industries with varied product lines may require more in-depth cleaning, sanitizing of process equipment at product changeovers, especially when there are product lines containing allergens and others which do not contain allergens. Many facilities do not have dedicated lines/equipment to keep allergens and non-allergens separate. Sometimes because of production scheduling issues, allergen-containing products cannot always be run after non-allergens. Cleaning at product changeovers may require equipment disassembly and inspection. Major allergens, include egg and dairy products, soy protein, sulfites, wheat gluten, shellfish and edible crustaceans, tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachio, etc), and celery.
Many industries use foam sanitizers, pressurized equipment which applies a layer of foam on equipment surfaces; the foam allows more sanitizer contact time for a more effective bacterial kill. One of the benefits of foam sanitizing is that eventually sanitizers would go down the drain, which ensures drains would not become a reservoir for microorganisms. This is particularly important in meat plants, where so many animal fluids go down the drains. Power washers can be used for walls, and basic equipment.
In either case —equipment or physical facility— a master sanitation schedule is recommended for routine cleaning to be done on a daily, ongoing basis, as well as non-routine cleaning done at longer intervals or as needed. Most managers/ sanitarians can use their best judgment to conclude how often cleaning should be done. Records for cleaning should be on file, which often take the form of check-off lists.
In association with a cleaning schedule there should be SSOPs. These are detailed, step-by-step procedures on how to conduct cleaning. With regard to process equipment, they often include disassembly and re-assembly protocols. SSOPs should also include safety concerns, PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) such as goggles, gloves, etc., and directions for proper utilization of chemicals including chemical safety (HAZCOM: Hazard Communications). Cleansers and chemicals should be properly stored away from any food items when not in use, and all properly labeled, with material safety data sheets (MSDSs) available. Cleaning equipment should be properly stored when not in use: brooms and mops should be cleaned and kept on wall-mounted racks off the floor. Floor scrubbers and mop buckets should be emptied and kept in designated areas.
Many industries also require cleaning equipment/brushes to be color coded for proper use, in an effort to prevent cross contamination: 1) product contact, interior surfaces of equipment, 2) non-product contact, exterior surfaces, 3) drains, 4) walls, etc.
Some of the most common mistakes during cleaning/sanitizing: 1) using cleansers or sanitizers at wrong concentrations, where there is a potential for excess chemicals to contaminate products or equipment, or for inadequate sanitizing for microorganism kill; 2) not cleaning commonly overlooked items such as drains, underneath equipment; 3) overlooking loose flaky paint, rust, other materials which could contaminate product; 4) inadequate record-keeping, 5) storing cleansers, cleaning equipment improperly, or improper labeling of chemicals; 6) inappropriate use of power washers, hoses, in which already cleaned equipment, or even product, can be contaminated by splashing; 7) “jury-rigged” equipment or temporary repairs which cannot be kept clean/sanitary.
While the goal of food processing is to deliver product to customers, cleaning and sanitation may be regarded as a means to an end, but it is equally as important, both in protecting the consumer from harm, and in protecting the processor from liability. In this regard, record-keeping can be important. Most facilities try to keep cleaning records at least beyond the shelf-lives of their product.
James Carter, Senior Consultant for ASI Food Safety Consultants in St. Louis. Mo., 800-477-0778 or firstname.lastname@example.org.